Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blaine County approves $24.3 million budget

Over $1 million shaved from expenses for 2009-10

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County has set a 2009-10 fiscal year of just over $24.3 million, representing a reduction in spending of approximately $1.2 million.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, county commissioners unanimously approved the budget for the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2010.

At first glance, next year's budget appears to have been significantly increased during a period of economic duress compared to the current fiscal year's budget of $22.6 million. However, the increase is a result of first-time revenues from Ketchum for law-enforcement services and a levy to fund open-space preservation. Both those items are "pass through" expenses that add nothing to the county's budget.

From Ketchum, the county will receive $1.2 million for its contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. The two-year property tax levy, passed last year, will provide the county with $1.7 million this year.

Not including those two expenditures, which reveals a more accurate comparison to the current budget, the county has managed to reduce spending by more than $1 million. The savings include an ongoing salary freeze, budget cuts of about 5 percent for individual county departments and leaving a position vacant in the Blaine County Water Quality Department.

As well, no capital projects are planned for the year and the county has reduced its contributions to social service organizations such as the Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, which will receive about $120,000, 6 percent less that it did this year.

The budget includes a 3 percent increase in property tax revenue, the maximum increase allowable by state law.

"I took a position against the increase at the beginning of the budget process, but changed my mind because the county is eating into its reserves to maintain its levels of service while revenues decline," Commissioner Larry Schoen said. "I don't know what our revenue outlook is for the [2011 fiscal year] yet, but we can't use up reserves now."

Schoen said deficit spending, which could amount to $700,000 of reserves being spent in the upcoming year, has created one major area of concern in the funding of Blaine Manor. The county will spend about $650,000 next year to keep the senior care facility operating in Hailey. Schoen said that large a subsidy from the county is unsustainable and could lead to another vote from residents on a property tax levy to continue funding the facility.

Jon Duval:

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